What is the Property Damage Statute of Limitations in Alabama?

Comply with the Alabama statute of limitations, or you could lose your right to file a lawsuit over your damaged or destroyed property.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If you've had your property damaged or destroyed as a result of someone else's negligent or intentional action in Alabama, you could be considering bringing a civil lawsuit over what happened. If so, it's important to understand the statute of limitations as it applies to property damage claims.

What Is a Statute of Limitations?

The term may sound intimidating, but a "statute of limitations" is simply a law that puts a limit on how much time can pass between:

  • the occurrence of some kind of wrongdoing that harms you (financially, physically, or otherwise), and
  • when you must file a lawsuit in court asking for a legal remedy for that wrongdoing.

Every state has these laws on the books, with different time limits depending on the kind of case being filed.

What's the Alabama Filing Deadline for Property Damage Lawsuits?

In Alabama, whether your potential case involves damage to real property (your house or your land, for example) or personal property (including damage to vehicles), it must be filed within six years, according to Code of Alabama section 6-2-34.

Specifically, this law sets a six-year filing deadline for "actions for any trespass to real or personal property." Here, "trespass" refers to any infringement of the property owner's rights to possession and enjoyment of their property (it doesn't only refer to unlawful entry onto land).

So, if a homeowner wants to bring a lawsuit for physical damage to the exterior of their house after a car crashes into it, that case must be brought within six years in Alabama. The same goes for a vehicle damage lawsuit after a car accident. In both situations, the statute of limitations "clock" usually starts ticking as soon as the property owner becomes aware (or should have become aware) that someone else caused damage to his or her property.

Learn more about how property damage claims work.

Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to Insurance Claims?

No. The statute of limitations only applies to lawsuits filed in Alabama's court system. It doesn't apply to insurance claims involving property damage. Six years is a pretty long time, but you'll still want to get the insurance claim process started as soon as possible after your property is damaged, and preserve the court option as leverage during settlement negotiations.

What If I Miss the Alabama Lawsuit-Filing Deadline?

If the six-year time window has closed but you try to file your Alabama property damage lawsuit anyway, it's a safe bet that the defendant (the person you're trying to sue) will file a legal motion asking the court to dismiss your lawsuit, based on the missed deadline.

The court is certain to grant the dismissal unless rare circumstances make an extension of the deadline appropriate (more on this in the next section). If that happens, you've essentially lost your right to any legal remedy for your damaged property. That's why it's crucial to pay attention to and comply with the Alabama statute of limitations as it applies to property damage claims.

Extending the Statute of Limitations Deadline In Alabama

For most kinds of civil lawsuits in Alabama—including property damage claims—a number of situations could effectively extend the six-year lawsuit filing deadline as laid out in the statute of limitations.

When the Property Owner Is Under a "Legal Disability" According to Alabama Law

If the property owner is under a legal disability at the time the damage occurs (in Alabama, that means they're under the age of 19 or have been declared insane), the six-year clock doesn't start running until the disability ends (meaning the property owner turns 19 or is declared sane).

Note that the filing deadline won't be extended for more than 20 years for reasons related to a legal disability in Alabama. This rule can be found at Code of Alabama section 6-2-8.

When the Defendant Is Absent From the State of Alabama

If the defendant is absent from the state for any period of time after the property damage occurs, but before the property owner files a lawsuit, the period of the defendant's absence probably won't be counted as part of the six-year period. (Code of Alabama section 6-2-10.)

Other situations might also affect the computation of the statute of limitations deadline. If you've got questions about this law as it applies to your potential property damage lawsuit, an experienced Alabama attorney will have the answers.

Can I File a Property Damage Case In Alabama Small Claims Court?

Yes. While many property damage lawsuits are filed in Alabama's Circuit Courts (which have jurisdiction over most civil cases in the state), if you're not asking for more than $6,000 as compensation for your damaged or destroyed property, you can opt for small claims court in Alabama. That means filing your lawsuit in one of Alabama's District Courts, which handle small claims.

Remember that you'll still need to comply with the statute of limitations even if you're filing in small claims court. Learn more about Alabama District Court Small Claims Actions.

Do I Need a Lawyer for My Alabama Property Damage Claim?

If insurance coverage applies to your property damage claim (i.e. vehicle damage that's covered by the at-fault driver's insurance after a car accident), handling the claim process on your own might make sense, at least at the outset. It can be tough to find an attorney for cases that involve only property damage. And paying for a lawyer might not even be worth it unless your losses are significant.

But an Alabama lawyer's help might be crucial if your case also involves personal injury or some other legal issue. Where the at-fault party's injury and property damage liability overlap, a lawyer might also agree to take your case on a contingency fee basis, meaning you won't pay for the lawyer's services unless you receive a settlement or court award. Get tips on finding the right lawyer for you and your case.

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